One decade ago Clif Bar & Company made a commitment to be sustainable and today has proven to continuously raise the bar for fellow entrepreneurs on what it means to be a sustainable business. From the outside, it appears as though Gary Erickson and Kit Crawford, Clif Bar’s co-CEOs, and their innovative staff have thought about sustainability from the environmental, social and financial perspective. Erickson recently commented on this occasion, “We hope others can learn from our experience, that bringing sustainability into all parts of the business does not need to be predicated on profitability. Even amid tough times, we had a bigger vision for the kind of company we wanted to be and the impact we wanted to have on the world around us.”
In 2007, they started offsetting the company’s carbon emissions and have since offset over 71,000 tons of Co2 by building wind projects in partnership with NativeEnergy. They even had the foresight ten years ago to hire an ecologist, whereas just within the last few years has creating positions such as a sustainability director started to catch on at larger companies. This year on the new Emeryville headquarters building, they installed the largest “smart” solar array in North America, providing almost 100 percent of the office’s electricity needs and 70 percent of the heating needed for the hot water system. During construction and renovation, they managed to divert 75 percent of materials from landfills via recycling and composting.
The company trailblazed organic food products when in 2003 they put the first energy bar to contain organic ingredients on the shelf. In 2010, they purchased over 43 million pounds of organics and 70 percent of their ingredients are organic, ensuring that thousands of acres of land are free of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. As their All Aspirations 2010 Annual Report states, “We consider our decision to go organic as a long-term investment that delivers on all five of our aspirations: Sustaining our Business, Brands, People, Community, and the Planet. Organic practices benefit our brand equity, promote people’s health, support our environmental objectives, and help to create a healthier, more just, and more sustainable food system.”
They are constantly working to minimize their waste stream. These efforts inspired a partnership with TerraCycle in order to “upcycle” Clif Bar wrappers (with the exception of CLIF Kid Organic Twisted Fruit® and CLIF SHOT® foods). TerraCycle sponsors their Wrapper Brigade to incentivize wrapper recycling. So far they have recycled over 10 million wrappers and goods made from the recycled wrappers have helped raise over $30,000 for non-profit organizations. In addition, all Clif Bar caddies are 100 percent shrink wrap free and made with 100 percent recycled (65 percent post-consumer) paperboard.
The company takes seriously the goal to sustain their community and have collaborated with numerous non-profits for service projects including planting native species with Watershed Project, planting gardens and building chicken coops for City Slicker Farms and installing solar panels on low-income homes with Grid Alternatives. The Clif Bar Family Foundation initiated the Seed Matters program, pledging $500,000 to the Organic Farming Research Foundation, Center for Food Safety and Organic Seed Alliance in an effort to protect and improve organic seed to ensure a sustainable food future for the planet.
Clif Bar also makes sure to take care of their own, which is why last year the company implemented an Employee Stock Ownership Plan to provide a more sustainable financial future for their employees. The sustainability of staff’s physical health and wellness is looked after at headquarters, with an onsite climbing wall, yoga and dance studios where staff can choose from 20 different classes or fitness trainer workout sessions. Employees with kids can utilize the on-site day-care center that opened last year, fit with an outdoor playground. Good for the planet and staff, Clif Bar offers up to $500 to each employee to go toward purchasing a commuter bike or retrofitting an existing bike. Their Cool Commute program has also helped 42 employees purchase hybrid or biodiesel-fueled vehicles. This may leave readers asking Clif Bar only one question: are you hiring?
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Lesley Lammers is a freelance sustainability consultant and journalist, focused on the intersection between the environment, food, social impact, human rights, health and entrepreneurship.